It is interesting how a single filmmaker can define the tone of an entire nation’s cinematic style. Looking at various nations that have solid film industries (but that do not boast of juggernauts like Hollywood of Bollywood), I am struck by how strongly certain icons have influenced so much of their nation’s cinematic style. At the moment, I am thinking of Spain. For decades, their preeminent film auteur was Bunel, but since his death, I think that it can safely be said that Pedro Almovodar has taken up the mantle as the defining Spanish filmmaker. As a result, so much Spanish cinema of the past two decades or so is presented in a style strongly influenced by Almovodar.
Case in point: “Boystown”.
This 2008 dark comedy is written, shot, directed, and acted in a style that Pedro might very well approved of. Even the music and editing recall his early years. However, if you’re going to ape someone’s style, you may as well ape one of the masters, and Almovodar is certainly a master. “Boystown”, for all of its stylistic overfamiliarity, is a success, the work of a creative team that needs to, and deserves to, move out of Pedro’s shadow and carve out their own stylistic niche.
The film is a macabre and madcap slice of life in Chueca, Madrid’s gay community. Chueca is rapidly gentrifying. A rather unscrupulous residential developer named Victor (Pablo Puyol) feels that the many elderly women living alone in classic vintage apartments need to move out so that the homes can be renovated and made available for younger, hipper, and probably gayer tenants. He takes matters into his own hands – literally – by strangling the women and then snapping up their real estate. Investigating the case is Mila (Rosa Maria Sardà) a middle-aged police detective with a super-sensitive sense of smell and a phobia for bugs. Her assistant is her rather clueless and square son Luis (Eduard Soto), who slowly transforms into a gay hipster over the course of the film. Mixed up in all of this are an overweight and nerdy couple, Rey (Carlos Fuentes) and Leo (Pepón Nieto). They’re both obsessed with the X-men; Leo is also obsessed with Rey’s ex boyfriend, whom they run into all over town. Their pal Lola (Mariola Fuentes) ends up providing key clues allowing Mila to apprehend Victor, but only after Rey and Leo get far too entangled in the drama for their liking.
The film is tightly scripted, and most of the performances are good. But, I can’t resist making one further Almovodar comparison here: Almovodar likes strong female characters. A lot. Although “Boystown” is ostensibly about gay men, the very best characters here are both older women: Sarda steals the show as detective Mila, and Concha Velasco has some great comedic moments as Rey’s mother. The cinematography of Juan Carlos Lausin keeps things interesting visually, the movie is well-paced, and although I could do without the scenes of fat, sloppy-looking, half-dressed men making out with each other, I found myself enjoying this film – perhaps as an appetizer while waiting for the next real Almovodar film!
* A note for X-men fans: you may be amused at the subtitles here. Wolverine is repeatedly mistranslated as “Wolf Cub”, his adamantium claws become simply “damantium”, and Professor Xavier is apparently known as “Sabier” in Madrid.